I suppose there is a lot that can, and has, been said about the Warped Tour in it’s 17 years. I’ve been one of it’s detractors in the past. This is my third consecutive year covering the Warped Tour and I don’t shy away from admitting that I have been one of those strong voices questioning it’s current validity as a “punk rock” tour. I was so vocal and adamant last year that my editor had to post up my editorial with a big, red disclaimer, fearing the burning of bridges from the venom with which I spoke. This year I have decided to do this for her and post this editorial on my own site, effectively putting myself at arms length so I can express to you my views without getting anyone in trouble but myself. With that said:
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED HERE ARE ONLY THE RAVINGS OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT REFLECT THE OPINIONS OR IDEAS OF ANYONE BUT HIS DAMNED SELF. I TAKE FULL CREDIT FOR THIS IF YOU LIKE IT, AND IF YOU DO NOT, THEN I CONTEND THAT MY SITE WAS HACKED WITH THE EXPRESS PURPOSE OF UNDERMINING MY AUTHORITY ON THE FOLLOWING SUBJECT.
The Warped Tour has had a long a winding road to where it is today. Major corporate sponsorship and the influx of even political entities, including Libertarians last year, has soured the truly punk roots from whence it came. This year I decided to take a very different approach in covering the event and did the interviews that probably brought you here. I wanted to examine the existence of hip-hop and rap on the tour and possibly discover why this seemingly antithetic form of expression and art has been allowed to operate through all these years.
On message boards on the Warped Tour site you can find strong opposition to it’s place on the tour. Listeners and concert-goers seem almost unified in their distaste for such “shit” to be taking set time on any of the seven stages that should rightfully go to truly punk rock acts. I, for one, feel that the punk rock moniker attached to the Warped Tour is no longer defined as a genre, but as an ideal that permeates every act no matter if it is the electro-pop, screamo, or even hip-hop. Punk rock is an idea, a way of life, and when thinking in these terms, hip-hop belongs on the Warped Tour as much as August Burns Red.
Warped Tour is a machine designed and run by large corporations who are in it to make money. I highly doubt that the people who choose the line-up are fans of all the artists on it. Do you think that booking 3OH!3 or Gym Class Heroes is anything but savvy marketing to sell tickets? Deep in the list, between acts that sell the majority of the tickets, are gems of self-expression that will blow your mind if you give them a chance. There are those acts that do it because they love it. I am not discounting the desire and love of the music of the headlining acts, far from it, but I am saying that you will find bands grinding it out on fan at a time. You will discover artists that have nothing but love for their fan base and think in terms of albums and crafting music “from silence to a full song,” as Budo would say.
Hip-hop, in this fashion, has always been a part of the Warped Tour. A lot of people like boxes. You need to compartmentalize all the options in the world or else you’ll go crazy. Music is no different. If you really just let it all go without comparisons and genres then your mind would not be able to cope with the unending amount of choices one has. There are more songs out there than any human being can listen to in their lifetime if they had music running 24/7 from birth to death. So people look at genres and decide that things are different, belong or don’t belong, and want to trivialize art like music in to boiled down generalizations that truly hurt the expression that can be found with any one act.
There is indie vs. mainstream, underground vs. overground, black rappers vs. white rappers, East vs. West vs. South vs. Midwest, and on and on. People, and the industry, like to break these acts up in to whatever categories seem appropriate for comparison. This hurts the music. Grieves said it best when he told me: “Would you like that song if it wasn’t on MTV? It’s like, if you like that music, why can’t somebody else like it, too? And why is it a bad thing that MTV is playing the music that you like? You hate MTV for playing the shit that you hate, but you would like them if they played the music you like, but when they play the music that you like, you hate that guy now.” It seems that there is an ever-present war between categories where no one can win, almost always the artist, and people are feeding in to that.
If you are one of these people who enforces the lines that divide then I guess this one is for you. You are a hardcore metal fan and think rap is shit and all rappers are the same then take this under advisement: MC Lars wants to have a kids hip-hop TV show like Yo Gabba Gabba to share the power and positivity that can come from hip-hop. A little shocked? Yeah, I was, too. You don’t think that is indie, it’s not hip-hop? Well, what the fuck is indie? You might think it is a sound and an idea of “fuck the machine” and “I don’t give a shit.” Well, indie is simply a business model. There is no sound, contrary to popular belief. Indie is a way of doing business outside of the major labels and doing your thing on your own. It is unadulterated self-expression without anyone tugging on your marionette strings. Producing and hosting a children’s rap TV show might be as indie and outside the box as you can get, and that is punk, too.
I asked Grieves and Budo about whether or not they felt comfortable on the tour. Grieves boiled it down like this: “We’re all artists out here and we’re all trying to make a living, and we’re trying to expose our art to people. I don’t feel any different from the guys in Winds of Plague who I got to meet on this tour. They are some of the heaviest, hardcore, most metal-ass dudes, and they are the shit. They are are cool-ass dudes.” These are all artists out here. Yes, it might come in different forms and different sounds, but at the end of the day it is all about exposing people to the art each of these groups make. MC Lars feels a bit more out of place, but he told me, “Punk rock is about being yourself, and that makes us [rappers] some of the most punk acts on here because we are doing what we want and following our hearts. Yeah, I feel out of place, and I feel like when I am in line at the catering line in the morning I don’t have any tattoos, and here that is rare, but it is cool because we are all doing what we love and we’re having fun and getting good reactions.” I’m a writer and this inspires me to do it independently after hearing words like this. It is art and everyone here is on a hustle, so what is so different about one act to another when you boil it all down to simple self-expression?
MC Lars is completely independent with his own label, Horris Records. Grieves only recently joined Rhymesayers Entertainment, and I would call Rhymesayers a major-independent label. MC Lars just released a free mix tape that you can download at mclars.bandcamp.com. Lars has no problem if you steal his music, he gives it away, but he just asks that you share it. This has somehow been good for his business and he is growing. Free music, “steal my music?” Wow, talk about working outside the box. Grieves is not one to pull punches about his sound, his passion, and how fed up with bullshit that he is. Sure, they are lyricists and they rap, but music is music and you can’t question their diehard love they have for what they do any more than you can question the heart of The Acacia Strain or The Dangerous Summer.
So what is the Warped Tour? It is obviously not just punk rock music, but it never was just that. Katy Perry and Eminem have done the tour and I don’t see any of them repping the punk rock music flag. Warped Tour is now, and probably always has been, a collaboration of the mainstream and the independent side of things, and independent hip-hop must be represented if not just from an idealistic standpoint. It is an amalgam of musical genres and acts, adhering to a myriad of business models, out to express themselves and reach the widest audience possible; the story as old as time. This is a corporate machine using non-corporate components for profit, but this isn’t exploitation as much as it is a symbiotic Faustian deal. They always have said that you can do more damage inside the machine than outside, and this is a parade of acts doing just that to be able to continue to say “fuck you,” but with a larger fan base. I would liken this to two wholly different industries consensually sodomizing one another. Each is getting their rocks off to their own benefit, but they aren’t looking each other in the face while they do it. If you want to fight the machine, it can help to be one of the cogs for a bit, but as long as you avoid the molds on the assembly line, then the punk ideals will always live on no matter how many Kia stickers you slap on it for a summer.